Today we focused on the founding of Rome, and in particular how the development of Rome was influenced by the Greek and Etruscan civilizations.

Relationship to the Greeks, mytho-history

  • The Romans felt socially inferior to the Greeks (in terms of art, literature, etc.).
  • Romulus and Remus: descendants of the Trojan prince Aeneas.
    • Sets up the Romans in relation to the Greeks.
    • Gives them another divine ancestor in Venus. (Mars being the parent of the twins, as below).
    • Justifies why the Romans should always be at war with the Greeks (avenging the displaced Trojans).
  • Myths are important for giving cultural identity.
    • Romulus and Remus are descendants of Mars: an explanation for the warlike nature of Rome.
    • Descendants of Aeneas and other Trojans: an explanation for the constant struggling against the Greeks.

Historical framework

The twins

  • The Romans believed that Rome’s founding was 753 BC.
  • Rhea Silvia, a princess of Alba Longa, was raped by Mars (or seduced in some versions), and gives birth to twins.
  • Her evil uncle wants to get rid of competitors: orders for the twins to be drowned in the Tiber river.
  • A she-wolf (lupa) takes care of the twins until a kindly shepherd finds them and takes them in.

The kings

  • There were six kings after Romulus: 753 BC to 509 BC.
  • “Regal period”
  • Numa
    • Romulus and Numa are considered to be necessary opposites.
    • Romulus acts through military action.
    • Numa known as the peace-bringer. Establishes important cultural traditions (temples, shrines, rituals etc.).
    • Romulus founds the city; Numa gives it its cultural identity.
  • There is not actually evidence that any of these kings ever existed, but the Romans certainly thought they did. The location of early Roman settlements, evident traces of Etruscan influence (cf. foreign Tarquin kings), and so on do comport with the conventional account.
  • Tarquinius Priscus
    • From Etruria.
    • The Romans see him as a foreign king, but they accept him because he does good things for the city.
      • Built the first sewer (and in so doing drained a valley in the center of the city).
      • Also introduces Etruscan elements into Roman culture, especially of a religious nature.
  • Etruscan priests/those that followed similar practices to them
    • Renown as priests. Romans relied on them.
    • Reading animal entrails
    • Augury: interpreting omens by looking at the sky.
    • Tarquinius Priscus introduces these sorts of things to Rome.
  • Note the culture blending – at this point Rome has three sources: the Greeks (Aeneas in their founding myth), the Etruscans (religious and cultural practices), and the Latins (from their own culture – that of the people native to the geographic area).
  • Tarquinius Superbus
    • Last king
    • “Tarquinius the proud”
    • Rapes Lucretia, the wife of Collatinus, one of the senators. (In some versions, his son does instead: Sextus Tarquinius).
    • Sparks the overthrow of the monarchy, culminating in the establishment of the republic in 509 BC.

The republic, and the rise of individual leaders

  • After the Romans expel Tarquinius Superbus, they become very anti-monarchial.
    • Every official elected.
    • Every office has at least two people in that office.
      • E.g., two consuls. Can veto each other.
      • Sometimes more. Four, six, eight, etc. people with the same office.
  • The senate
    • Aristocratic houses have a say in things.
    • Problem: all power with aristocracy leads to conflicts with lower classes.
  • Lower classes want a say too: leads to creation of the plebeian assembly.
    • Also the tribunes of the plebs. Tribunes can veto laws.
    • The separation and distribution of power sounds good, but it also led to gridlock and chaos: there were competing authorities. Not entirely clear whose authority trumped the authority of others.
  • Starting around the 2nd century BC, some men start getting “extra-legal” power.
    • Armies become loyal to their individual leaders rather than the state.
    • From c. 100–30 BC individuals gain control and loyalty of armies and try to assert their authority.
    • For example, Julius Caesar in the 50s.
      • Senate sees him as danger, tries to block him => first triumvirate => fails because they can’t play nice together => Julius Caesar declared dictator => too much like a king => assassinated.
  • Competition, how leaders tried to set themselves apart.
    • Win wars, get money, triumphant return, then public works.
      • When the rising aristocrat does something nice for you, as a lower class person, you return the favor by supporting him.
    • Patronage and benefaction played a large part in the expansion of the city.
      • Thus expansion was idiosyncratic. Things that needed to get built did not, in lieu of things that might boost popularity more. This neglect got even worse after the 70 years of civil war.

Roman expansion

  • All throughout this.
  • Italian peninsula, France, Spain, North Africa, Turkey, Syria, etc.
  • By 31 BC, Rome controls the Mediterranean.
  • Massive, sprawling bureaucratic and militaristic complex.

The success of Rome and its geographic location

The Tiber river

  • Water source
  • Transportation/trade
  • Connects to the ocean – salt was another important resource from the Tiber.
  • Also serves as a defensive barrier
    • The Tiber is a long river, but there is only one place where you can ford it (near Tiber island), and thus it is an effective defensive feature.
  • It is not controversial to say that the Tiber was an important part of Rome’s success.


  • Many hills. Seven is the traditional number, but there are more than that, arguably.
  • Used to be more sheer in antiquity. The level of buildings in the valleys rose over time via deposition. The steepness made for good defensive positions.
  • The hills are made out of tufa, a water-permeable volcanic rock that is an effective building material.

Aside: building materials

  • Change over time, so can be used as a very rough tool in dating things.
  • Initially: wood and mud brick, perishable.
  • Later: terra cotta, tufa
  • Then limestone from Tivoli, known as travertine. Used a lot in the late republic.
  • Only at the very end of the republic that Romans get access to marble.


  • Land around Rome is very fertile.
  • Volcanic soil (the volcanoes being present but dormant, for the most part).


  • Combine a warlike, aggressive spirit with all of the winning factors above, and you get the success of Rome.

Things on the Quirinal hill

The Quirinal palace

  • Where the president of Italy resides.
  • Was a papal residence in the past. After the unification of Italy, the function changed.

Aside: crests on buildings

  • Continuity of use in a conceptual sort of way.
  • Taking credit for public buildings in the same sort of way as the patronage/benefaction system.

Obelisk and horse assembly

  • A mostly spoliated assembly
  • Disparate elements that were not initially together: things from around the city that were taken and combined.
    • Assembled for a new purpose.
  • But what is this purpose?
    • It is not in the center of the plaza as we would expect if it were ornamental.
    • Have a look at a picture taken from right in front of the statue.
  • It is a straight shot down Venti Settembre, a pillar lined up with the road.
  • Therefore it functions as an intentionally created landmark to help guide people through the city.

Aqueducts and the Trevi fountain

The Aqua Virgo

  • Aqua Virgo: built in 19 BC. Mythological origin story involving a virgin leading soldiers to a spring. Hence the name.
  • Aqueduct runs about 19 miles, much of it underground.
  • 6th century: aqueducts cut by invaders.
  • Later, some of the aqueducts were restored, including the Aqua Virgo.
  • Feeds various fountains today, including the Trevi fountain. The same aqueduct from two millennia ago.

The Trevi fountain

  • The panels above the side niches show the establishment of the water source, the Aqua Virgo.
  • The subject of the lower art is mythological. Most notably Poseidon in the middle.
  • One of the things that makes it so theatrical is that you don’t see the whole thing until you get into the plaza.

The Capitoline hill

A view of the forum from the Capitoline hill.

  • Recall that Tarquinius Priscus built the cloaca maxima, draining the swampy land between hills.
  • Becomes center of Rome in political, religious, social, and economic spheres. Especially in the republic.

The Capitoline in general

  • Two peaks. Was quite sheer an antiquity – defensible.
  • Over time, came to be a religious center. Particularly with respect to the temple of Jupiter.
  • Asylum: an area between the peaks on the Capitoline where whoever came would be given citizenship.
  • Also associated with Saturn (who had a more positive image for than Romans than did Kronos for the Greeks), a bringer of civilization.
    • A desire for a “return to the age of Saturn.”
    • Instrumental for Augustus’ propaganda later.
  • Also an outcropping on the Capitoline called the Tarpeian Rock.
    • Tarpeia was thrown off this outcropping, either as a traitor to Rome, or as its savior by betraying foreign invaders. (Depends on story version).
    • In the republic, the capital punishment for traitors was to be thrown off of the Tarpeian Rock.
  • From the view on top of the Capitoline, across the Tiber you can see the Janiculum hill.

The Forum Boarium

  • Early days: probably was actually a cattle market.
  • Lies between (is bounded by) the Capitoline, Palatine, Aventine, and the Tiber.
  • The cloaca maxima bisects the Forum Boarium underground.
  • Has a large shrine to Hercules, and an accompanying founding story. Cf. Livy’s account of Hercules killing Caucus, and the part his cattle play in this story. (Hence the name).
    • The Romans once again weaving themselves into Greek culture.
  • Forum Boarium was also said to contain the ship of Aeneas.

The Circus Maximus


  • There is a natural valley between the Palatine and Aventine: convenient place to hold chariot races.
  • “Monumentalized:” add seating, central structures, etc.
  • Largest single structure of Rome. By Julius Caesar’s time, could seat up to 100,000 people. Up to 250,000 eventually.
  • Central barrier that is driven around: spina.
  • Would want to be close to spina since doing such is the shortest path. But also higher centripetal forces, more dangerous.
  • Generally 12 chariots each race.
    • 4 teams: red, green, blue, white.
    • 3 charioteers for each faction. Generally 2 run interference (blocking, etc.) and 1 tries to win.
  • 7 laps
  • Could be up to 20 races a day.
  • More frequent than gladiatorial games by far. Was a place for entertainment and gambling.

Its current state

  • Almost all of the materials from the Circus Maximus were spoliated: not much left of the actual structure.
  • Used by Mussolini to evoke the idea of antiquity.
    • It is common to have more than one of the timeperiods in mind at the same time: imperial, papal, fascist.
    • Here, imperial and fascist.

Greeks on the Palatine

  • According to traditions, Greeks had a town on top of the Palatine. Evander was the king. Cf. account in Vergil’s Aeneid.
    • Notice again what is happening with the Greeks and mythology. There is not any evidence of the Greeks actually living in early Rome, but the Romans want the connection.
    • Stories are not only part of the city’s history, but also part of its landscape. Landmarks and such in the city are noted in the stories. Some things only exist in the stories; they have been “lost” (if they ever actually existed).